Bangladesh

Litchi growers fear record low yield this year

Litchi growers in Dinajpur fear a record low production this year because of unfavourable climate, absence of bees and high temperature during the last winter season.

Horticulture experts in the district said the consumers will have to spend high to taste the mouth-watering fruit this year.

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Many varieties of litchis are produced in Dinajpur. Among them, Madrazi, Bombai, China-1, 2 and 3, and Bedana are the most popular ones, which are grown in Mashimpur, Madhabbati, Moheshpur, Korola, Robipur, Birganj, Chirirbandar and Khansama villages.

Litchi was cultivated on 5,390 hectares this year, slightly higher than last year's 5,293 hectares.

But the growers have set a much lower production target of 45,000 tonnes, down from 54,164 tonnes last year.

There are around 4,000 commercial orchards in 13 upazilas inside the district.

Around 20,000 litchi trees died for excessive rainfall last year, according to farmers in the district.

Only 70 per cent of the litchi trees of the existing 4,000 orchards flowered in the last flowering season, which is quite unexpected and frustrating, said Rafiqul Islam, a litchi farmer of Madhabbati.

"Of the 70 per cent, 40 per cent of the flowers died due to bad climate. The growers are now pinning their hopes on the rest 30 per cent and fearing to count heavy losses."

Litchi production will hit a record low this year, Rafiqul, who has 30 years of experience, told The Daily Star.

"I have 400 litchi trees on my 4.5-acre land in Madhabbati. Among them, only 20 trees budded. It is quite frustrating," he added.

Rafiqul said he suffered massive losses last year when the government imposed a countrywide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus.

"Litchi production will see a 75 per cent year-on-year fall this year," said Anwarul Islam, a litchi businessman of Madhabbati who purchased five large litchi orchards from the growers on contract this year.

Bombai, China, Bedana and Madrazi varieties of litchis are grown widely in Biral upazila, he said.

There will be a massive shortfall of Bombai and Bedana litchis, but production of other varieties like China 1, 2 and 3, and Madrazi will be moderately well, Anwarul said.

"I incurred huge losses last year for the Covid-19 outbreak and would incur massive losses this year also."

The grower said he sold litchis worth Tk 30 lakh from five orchards in 2019. But this year he does not think it would be possible to sell litchis worth even Tk 5 lakh from the same orchards.

Investors will lose their capital if the situation remains the same for the whole year, he said.

In attempts to raise litchi production and recover losses, the growers are now deploying additional labour to nurture the existing trees.

In Dinajpur, Mashimpur has done better than other villages. Most of the litchi trees were found filled with buds there.

However, growers think the buds may fall from the trees if there is no rain in the days to come.

Azizar Rahman, another grower of the village, said litchi production will be 50 per cent lower than last year because of the bad climate.

The spiralling cost of inputs is also a reason for the losses, he said.

"I was hoping to recover the lockdown losses of 2020, but low production has made it impossible this year."

Only 10 per cent of the flowers of Bombai litchi trees turned into buds in the area. The rate increased to 50 per cent in case of Madrazi, China and Bedana varieties.

Every year, flowering of the litchi trees begins in mid-February and the fruit hits the market at the end of May or early June.

Last year, 221,830 tonnes of litchis were grown in 31,690 hectares of land in the country, according to data of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE).

Touhidul Iqbal, deputy director of the DAE office in Dinajpur, also blamed the adverse weather conditions and excessive rainfall for the fall in litchi production.

But he was confident that growers will get a better price, which may help them recover some losses.

This seasonal litchi production creates enormous job opportunities in the district every year and the whole district becomes vibrant during the time.

Litchi is produced commercially in 26 districts of the country, including Thakurgaon, Panchagarh, Rajshahi, Panba, Natore and a few hilly districts.

In 2018-19, around 2.30 lakh tonnes of litchi was produced in the country and a lion's share of that came from Dinajpur and Pabna districts.

Litchi growers of other districts also fear to see a drastic fall in production.

"Only 30 per cent of my 800 litchi trees flowered this season," said Md Shajahan Ali, a litchi grower at Kadimpara village under Ishwardi upazila in Pabna.

The rate of transformation of the flowers to bud was also bad and most of the buds dropped few days after their transformation, he said.

Ali earned Tk 8 lakh in 2019, the earnings were poor in 2020 due to the pandemic and he can hardly think of earning even Tk 1 lakh this year.   

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